This year I was head coach of the Penticton Tiger’s 11U Mosquito baseball team.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to coach, teach or lead children you understand the responsibility involved, and the enjoyment of seeing young people grow and learn, form friendships and hopefully feel that they’ve had a positive experience. From April 13 to June 20 we had many hours of practice and played 21 games. Spending that amount of time with these 13 young men gave me an opportunity to teach many things and not all of them related to baseball skills.
My number one lesson is to not put down teammates when they make a mistake.
Baseball, and life, are full of mistakes, everyone makes them. In baseball, there is one thing happening at a time, so if there is a mistake, everyone sees it. In life, we can often hide our mistakes. I ask them, can you name me the MLB player who has never made an error in the field? They try and guess, but of course, the answer is none. Do you think your teammate will play better or worse if you tell him he “should have got that ball” or “great effort, you’ll get the next one.”
There is a strict rule in our league about not arguing with umpires. It is against the rules to argue anything, a ball, a strike, an out — anything. You can get removed from the game without warning for one incident. Many of the umpires in our league are 13-14 years old and they are learning just as much as the players on the field are. The rule is there to prevent the types of incidents we so often read about and to ensure that the young umpires feel safe to make the call they feel is right. They make mistakes too, everyone does.
What I experienced last weekend I have never seen in the nine seasons I’ve been involved with Penticton Minor Baseball. I’ve found that the coaches and parents are without fail great people, intent on making sure everyone has a positive experience on the field.
On Saturday, in a very important game where the winner moved onto the first place game, the rain was coming down steady and increasing. Balls were starting to slip out of the pitcher’s hands and the safety of the players was in question. The umpire decided to call the game one inning short, giving us one more inning to play.
My approach with young umpires is always the same. I ask why, I try and let them make a decision without influence. They of course look to the coaches for advice, but it’s important that they realize that they are in charge of the game, not us. It was an awkward spot in our line-up, and if the other team had scored in the top of the inning they would have most likely won the game.
What happened after the game was horrifying. The coach from a neighbouring community had already yelled and argued with the umpire more than he should have when the call was made, but when the game was over and the young players were having an end of the game handshake, the coach continued to yell and shout profanities at the umpire, at me, their fans were yelling and calling us cheater’s and swearing at us. I did my best to calm the situation down and to stop the yelling. Regardless of the call, this type of behaviour is not appropriate in any circumstance.
The next day, as my team was taking the field to play their final game of a long season, I was again verbally attacked by their fans who had just lost another game, one of my assistant coaches was surrounded by parents and yelled at, and one of their coaches approached me in a threatening way with a raised bat in his hand outside the dugout while I was preparing for the final. I used this as a lesson for my players in sportsmanship. I explained that this is why we are strict about not arguing and being good teammates all the time. If you teach this type of behaviour to children, it will stick with them as they grow into adults.
This is not dissimilar to what happens in our lives every day with family, work, community, province, country and world. We all have beliefs that we’re right, or someone else is wrong. The truth is, we’re all wrong to some degree in every situation. The black and white, us and them, me at the expense of other’s, win at all costs mentality is what’s frightening. We all have opportunities to take advantage of other people, it’s never worth it. We can use intimidation, anger, tantrums and manipulation for short-term gain and to achieve the goals that we think are right based on our perspective and the knowledge we have. Isn’t it better to let a child, teenager, partner, co-worker, community, culture and learn instead? Do I like winning? Absolutely, it feels good. Would I like to win because I verbally intimidated or influenced a 14-year-old umpire to get my way? I would not, others would.
My goal as a coach is to teach children how to be better people, not win a baseball game, so that they can take the lessons learned from winning or losing and being part of a team and grow to be better adults. I feel terrible for the players on the other team who have been taught that winning at all costs is more important than treating people with respect. As parents, if you don’t agree with how coaches are teaching your children, say something. Or even better, be a coach, or get a group of positive parents and co-coach. Show them a better way. Break the cycle.
Keith MacIntyre is a guest columnist and the head coach of the Penticton Mosquito Tigers.